“I don’t think anyone knows how truly DIY this is,” Cecilia Della Peruti aka Gothic Tropic says over a slightly trippy transatlantic Google Hangout. It’s a concept that’s hard to grasp as her debut album, Fast Or Feast, radiates with pop gloss and heroic hooks; if Debbie Harry, Christine McVie, and Kevin Parker were going for a drive in the Cali Valley on a hot summer’s afternoon, this would be the tape they’d be slotting into the cassette deck.
Gothic Tropic was first conceived by Della Peruti back in 2011 as a “sacred, gnostic and cathartic” outlet away from her paying gig as a professional musician playing in other people’s bands. As a “result of thinking ‘EP’ meant ‘demo’” the Awesome Problems EP was released shortly after; the five tracks drenched in rhythmic psych and distorted vocals saw Della Peruti orbiting a universe away from what would become Fast Or Feast.
After a stint playing in the live bands of Børns and The Night Terrors of 1927, Della Peruti finally realised it was possible to “make a pop record that wasn’t corny”. Teaming up with producer Todd Dahlhoff, the pair laid down the tracks for the album last year in-between their other gigs in the submarine, Dahlhoff’s backyard home studio, with Della Peruti rewriting and refining the songs she’d amassed. The result is a record bursting with infectious power pop melodies against a genre hopping backdrop: opener 'Stronger' is 80s FM radio perfection, 'Chemical Trail' is woozy looped soul and 'Major' a psych freakout if performed by the Cocteau Twins.
Speaking from her hometown of LA Della Peruti is ebullient and disarmingly honest, revealing it took a lot of encouragement from friends and family to finally pursue Gothic Tropic. Over the course of interview she talks animatedly about Fast Or Feast being a coming of age record, how the comparisons to Haim are not far off, and why she’d consider signing to a major for the next record.
DiS: Why did you choose the name Fast Or Feast for the album?
Cecilia Della Peruti: It’s how I’m feeling in my life right now where the chances of becoming homeless or renting a jet are equal [laughs]. I’ve accepted both possible outcomes of being a musician. The other part of it is this all encompassing balance and duality; it’s the whole overarching theme of the record.
The album seems to be a coming of age record partly as it’s such a transition from your debut EP Awesome Problems.
I agree with you on that. Awesome Problems was a result of thinking ‘EP’ meant ‘demo’ [laughs]. I had no idea what I was doing professionally and I never had a manager and I never meant to pursue my own music in a proper way. The point of it was to be an outlet for me creatively and I almost potentially sabotaged some opportunities to allow it to remain a sacred, gnostic and cathartic source for me.
Anything I’ve put out has been because I wanted to and that’s the point and I wasn’t trying to go anywhere with it; I didn’t know I would be pushing this as I thought I'd be playing for other people which felt more comfortable to me. Enough people and enough friends and family encouraged me to push my own thing, because they thought it was it worth doing and I always need a lot of convincing that I have anything good to offer. With this record it was trusting that it might be good, so I put more care and focus into it than I did with the other recordings.
On the EP your voice is obscured and the lyrics are inaudible, whereas on this album your vocals and lyrics are clear to hear. Do you think this change was down to you maturing as both a person and musician?
As a person too I think. The muddy and shrouded vocal track was on purpose as I never fancied myself as a performer or rock star - it stems from shyness, I guess. It’s always a feeling of you never want to take yourself too seriously and you never want to sell yourself; for me there’s a fine line between it feeling empowered and cocky.
Now, I’m just like forget all those demon voices telling me whatever. That’s easy to do; what’s hard to do is have faith in yourself and let your vocals be heard and they’re clearer and they’re crispy – it’s scary! Now, I’m like: “Let’s do it, let's do the whole thing”. I’m writing the second record right now and I want it to be even more: “Yeah, this is me”.
You started Gothic Tropic in 2011 but waited until last year to record the album. Why was it the right time to record?
I was writing this record pretty much on the tour that I met Todd [Dahlhoff] the producer; I was playing keys in Night Terrors Of 1927 and he was playing bass. It was one of the first gigs I had where I was sent the stems to listen and learn; Blake Sennett [guitarist, Night Teorrors Of 1927] is very much a producer and I was able to hear what kind of sounds they were using and in Børns it was the same thing. I was like: “Wow, this is how you do a pop record that isn’t lame or corny”. Being in Børns inspired me to follow what I wanted to do, which was to make a pop record that wasn’t corny and that still had the jam band quality that I love and grew up on. It was a good time to be inspired.
When I got back there was such a rush to record the album with Todd, because he was touring in other bands and I was touring in bands - the pressure was on. I heard some of the songs I’d written before and I was like: “This is going to be final and I’m not sold yet”. So, I rewrote some things the same day we were recording them and that was really exciting.
How long did it take to record?
I think in total it was around 20 days, but it took a year for us to be in the same city.
Was it that you only wanted to record with Todd rather than anyone else?
We agreed to do it together. We produced one song as a test and I was like, “Yes, you know exactly what I’m going for and we’re on the same page”. It’s really hard to find that and he’s the perfect person to collaborate with; he’s a great person and I love being around him.
I’m paying for everything, so, unfortunately, I have to have a very unique approach to doing things because it usually means whoever I’m working with might have to be ok with a payment plan....I think because it’s the first record he’s produced, he wants to get a foot in the door and it was the first thing he did after building his studio - I think I got really lucky with that.
The album takes in a myriad of different influences from dreamy psych to 60s girl groups, but it still sounds like one cohesive piece. How did you achieve this without it sounding disparate?
I really struggled with making it all feeling cohesive, because I love Blondie but I also love Yes. I would be constantly asking Todd and friends and people in the band: “Is this too far away from the other thing?”. They were like: “No, fuck it!” I’m really conscious of that, I notice that too and hope people aren’t mad about it. Other artists have done it and it’s no big deal and it’s still their same voice. I really wanted to have a through line that made everything feel cohesive.
I’m glad you think that, as some people actually are complaining about how it’s not. I think even though it weaves in and out of a few genres it’s still me and it’s still the same voice, it’s still the same guitar style and same sounds.
You’ve spoken a lot about having eclectic influences. What were you listening to around the time of recording the album?
I’m always listening to Prince, David Bowie, Blondie, and The Pretenders. I think something that influenced me accidentally was that I was learning and playing Børns’ songs so I was in Børns’ mode. I think the only thing that may have leaked in is sound choice; I really like the sounds [Garrett Børns] pick and we both like the 70s pop sounds.
I’ve seen people compare us to Haim and it’s because Este [Haim] was one of the first people I started making music with in Burbank with my friend Marinna. Danielle and those girls love Fleetwood Mac, I love Fleetwood Mac – it’s not because we sound like each other it’s because we share the same influences.
I interviewed Este around the time of their last album and she explained how their sound was influenced by living in LA and driving around listening to the radio. How do you think LA has influenced your record?
We have literally the same experience growing up in LA, going to the same places, going to the same shows, having the same friends, going over to Sunset Strip and seeing the same bands. Also, LA is like a biosphere for anti-depressant weather - maybe the summery vibes are by default.
I think LA definitely has had an influence on me. I grew up in The Valley and have been in every single kind of band…there’s definitely a shared influence for anyone who’s making music out in LA. It’s natural and it’s not contrived, it just happens that way...everyone’s learning how to make music in the same zone and you share your process with your friends and they share it with their friends.
In older articles written about Gothic Tropic you’re referred as a trio. When did it change to just being you?
I don’t know why they say “trio”. The line-up’s been changing ever since I started because all my friends and the people that I like to play music with are working musicians; they have jobs where they’re playing for people and are away for a period of time so there’s a rotating cast of players because they’re professional players. It’s always been me and I hire people to play with me; I let people think it’s a band because it feels kind of cool to have this camaraderie.
If I’m going to be in a band that’s more collaborative when writing I’d rather not be the singer; in that environment I like having a supportive role. In my own thing, the whole point is that it’s my own music and I don’t want to accept a song from someone I don’t like…. That’s not why I started this! It’s my own thing; that’s why I started it.
Where can you imagine yourself going from here? Is it fast or feast?
I don’t know, this whole thing is such a DIY situation. If I were on a major label or I had unlimited resources I could record the next record tomorrow.
The trade off for going on a major is that creatively you could get your wings clipped
I’m super open to critique and help and whatever it is that would elevate me to be heard by a wider audience, that’s all I want, I want people to hear it and decide if they like it. This is a super DIY project, I’m surprised we even went to England, Berlin and Europe and people were at the shows. I’m just surprised that anyone knows who I am, because they shouldn’t as we’re running a shoestring operation here.
Can you imagine having money to record an album? That would be insane. Some bands are like: “Oh my god, my label gave me this 60 grand advance and I don’t know”. Like, what dude! I would love that and I’m hoping I can attract some support and record a real album in a real studio. Fast Or Feast was recorded in Todd’s studio in his backyard and it’s standalone; we called it the Submarine - it’s 7ft by 4ft. I don’t think anyone knows how truly DIY this is [laughs].
It’s funny you mentioned “creatively clip your wings”, as creatively I feel they’re already clipped as I have to work with what I have. If I had more of a support system I would be in the studio 16 hours a day just honing in every single thing - that’s my dream. I’d also like to be able to tour properly and play live.
Although record companies seem less interested in developing artists and instead want to sign a finished product. It narrows down the artists who get signed to those that can afford to play and record without the support of a label.
That’s why a lot of the bands everyone’s hearing right now are either trust fund kids, who have money to record a polished record, or this scrappy, tough, really talented, really genius people who manage to wrestle their way to the front of the line. I’m definitely working twice as hard to get half as far. I want the music to speak for itself and the problem is people don’t press ‘play’ as easily, you have to really convince them to listen to even 15 seconds.
The album cover is an image of you wearing an open leather tasselled jacket and has an LA rock feel to it. In your press shots you’re wearing a white and brown suit that reminded me of Gram Parsons in his nudie suit. How do you decide on your aesthetic?
I’m glad everything seems very deliberate. My friend Ryan shot it - we grew up together, we’ve know each other since we were 17 - and we were trying different things. We were trying to think of a cool cover and we wanted it to be simple and there were a bunch of different options and the cow suit was in there too. The cover was actually an outtake we looked over and when he was going to send me some final ideas he was scrolling through and I was like: “Wait, wait what’s that one, I like that one”. I liked it because the other ones were straight on looking at the camera - not unnatural but not candid - but the cover I was moving something and he snapped it right at that moment.
Fast Or Feast is out now via Old Flame Records. For more information about Gothic Tropic, please visit her official website.